Eating Healthy for Athletes
If you plan to exercise or play basketball hard for 90 minutes or more, the high intensity takes a lot of endurance. Therefore, you need a diet that can help you perform at your peak, build strength, sustain energy, and recover quickly afterward.
Although there are many foods and supplements on the market, packaged and processed items such as protein powders and meal replacement bars are not the answer. Healthy eats are the way to go because every meal and snack should provide natural nutrition on a consistent basis.
Carbs are the main fuel for an athlete. They change to glucose and are stored in the muscles as glycogen, which is changed into energy when you exercise. Load up on carbs for three or four days before a game, and your glycogen stores will be increased. A diet of about 70% of the calories from carbs can include cereals, breads, and pasta. Fruit and vegetables are actually a better choice because eating starchy or sugary foods within 30 minutes of an activity could speed up dehydration.
All vegetables provide the vitamins and minerals your body needs for optimal performance. But dark, leafy greens and members of the cruciferous family such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts have higher concentrations of fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients.
Protein and Milk
You need protein to maintain your muscles. That’s approximately 88 grams of protein for a 150-pound person or 150 grams of protein for a 200-pound strength athlete. Eat high-quality protein such as fish, lean meats, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, or milk.
Milk is one of the best foods for recovery after a stressful event, because it provides protein, carbohydrates, casein and whey protein. Whey protein is absorbed quickly, which speeds recovery. Casein is digested more slowly, which helps long-term recovery of muscle. Milk also has calcium for maintaining strong bones.
Sweating removes both fluids and the electrolytes that help transmit nerve signals in your body. Replenish carbs, water and minerals during long exercise sessions by eating a snack and drinking fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. Many athletes prefer sports drinks or bars because they are convenient, but fruit and fruit juice are better choices.
Intense exercise can leave you dehydrated, which can not only hurt your performance but can possibly threaten your life. To monitor hydration, keep an eye on the color of your urine. If it is pale yellow, you are getting enough fluid. Bright yellow or dark urine means you’re not. Before and during an event, drink 8 to 12 ounces of fluid every 10 or 15 minutes. Chilled fluids are more easily absorbed than room temperature and also help cool your body down.
Bananas are a favorite post-event recovery food because one medium banana contains natural electrolytes and 422 mg of potassium, which is needed to regulate fluids and prevent spasms and muscle cramps. You sweat out potassium during physical activity, so it is important to replenish it.
Fish and Seafood
Oily fish like salmon, trout, and mackerel are good sources of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation that can hamper athletic performance. Eating fish and seafood twice a week for a total of about 8 ounces is a recommended amount to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits.